To slow the rapid spread of COVID 19, as of Thursday at 8:00 a.m. the Missoula City County Health Department will restrict business capacity to 50 percent, limit group gatherings to 25, cease serving alcohol at 10:00 p.m. and there will be a voluntary stay at home order.

Mayor John Engen set the mood with his opening statement asking Missoula residents to brace themselves for new restrictions.

“Today there are simply too many cases, one case may be too many of COVID-19 to continue business as usual,” said Engen. “So today, our Health Officer Ellen Leahy will announce new restrictions that will be in effect on Thursday of this week. They are simple, straightforward and effective practices to protect public health and safety.”

Leahy laid out the new restrictions, starting with group size gatherings.

“The changes are that events and gatherings are now limited to 25, and any group over 25 is required to check in with the health department,” said Leahy. “You must check in before you try to plan your gathering. We don't want to find out about it, because someone complained the day before or afterwards, and most people do want to cooperate. We are here to answer your questions and give you the very best ideas we have on how to run it as safely as possible.”

Leahy said there are some exceptions to the new order.

“None of these limitations apply to students and classrooms or other school related activities,” she said. “As long there is not an audience or other spectators present, and none of them apply to voting activities. There are no restrictions other than the safe six foot distancing, masking and disinfection that our elections officials are already following.”

Leahy explained the standard that the Health Department is attempting to achieve.

“We need to get to that 25 case seven day average per hundred thousand population, just think of the 25, and that’s just to get back into the red zone on that metric,” she said. “We are currently at 51. It was only about a week and a half ago and we were down at 33. I cannot impress upon you how quickly it went to 51.”

In addition to the group gatherings being reduced from 50 to 25, Missoula County businesses must operate at a maximum of 50 percent capacity; business that serve alcohol must stop by 10:00 p.m. and there is now also a voluntary stay at home order, meaning if you don’t have to go out, stay home.

Leahy said personal care business may continue operation at 50 percent capacity and they must still abide by all present requirements.

Both Missoula hospitals weighed in, stating that even though they have not reached their saturation point with COVID 19, many of their staff members have been forced to stay home due to contact tracing.

Grant Kier, Executive Director with the Missoula Economic Partnership made the observation that ‘when cases go up, business goes down’, meaning the more active COVID cases there are, the more business activity is curtailed.

Read the new Missoula County Health Officer Order here.